Flint is up with his memories today.
The 4th February 1956 was the day my young 8-year-old life changed for ever, it was then I was hooked like a fish to football but most specifically THE Arsenal. I had known for some weeks that I would be going; my Dad had got hold of some tickets through his friend Peter Goring, a hero of the 1950 FA Cup Final win against Liverpool, then as centre-forward, but now skippering the side at right half.
The excitement grew to a crescendo until the day finally arrived. We lived in Southgate, as did a number of the players in those days, just 7 stops on the tube to Arsenal but we went by car, a much easier exercise then than it is now. Our journey took us past the Barratt & Co sweet factory, famous for Sweet Cigarettes, Sherbet Fountains, Refreshers + many other joys of the time. Through the actual Finsbury Park to Monsell Road, less than 200 yards from the ground but there was little trouble parking, despite a crowd of over 38,000 being present, so few cars about by comparison. A local lad not much older than me came out & in the tradition of the time offered to “look after the car Mister..?” “OK” was the answer & we were off on our way to the West Stand Upper Tier Highbury, my first of well over a 1000 visits to the famous old stadium.
Down Gillespie Road, with programme sellers & purveyors of little badges with photos of the likes of Holton, Nutt or Tapscott on them, past the North Bank & Arsenal tube station into Highbury Hill until we got to that strange entrance between the terraced houses, then through the turnstile & up all those stairs, I did count how many once, just before a hernia operation, but that is a fact I have not retained, then as we went between the concrete bulwarks of the block entrance I had that “Fever Pitch” moment & saw the pitch down there before me, in all its glory. Mainly mud but still a fair amount of green but I was awestruck. What did those white lines mean? Didn’t know then but soon learnt. Incidentally there was no roof over the North Bank, the replacement for the war damaged previous cover was due to be erected during the next close season.
I am afraid I cannot remember which block we were in but it was around half way between the centre & the Clock End about halfway up between the front & the entrance, probably about Row L. The ground wasn’t full but filling, I had never seen so many people in one place before. The Metropolitan Police Band was in full flow with perhaps “the Dam Busters” or “Can-Can”. There was a hum that turned to wild shouting & twirling of rattles as the players ran out about 10 minutes before KO. You never saw them before this, none of this warming up & walking out together. Both teams ran out but at separate times. Arsenal in the famous red shirt with white sleeves, white knickers with blue & white ringed stockings; Sunderland in their change colours of white shirts with red collars, black knickers, red & white stockings.
The players kicked some balls to each other for the 10 minutes or so until both captains – Peter Goring & Sunderland’s (perhaps Ray Daniel) shook hands with the referee on the centre spot, the toss of the coin & then the players took their positions in the straight forward 2-3-5 of the time, afraid that is a guess but that was the general tactic then – score more than the other team, quite simple really!
To be honest my memory is more of the occasion than the match itself. What stood out was the positive goalkeeping of Jack Kelsey in his green jersey coming to catch the ball so high & so effortlessly, probably without gloves, despite getting a buffeting from the Sunderland forwards. It was pointed out to me that our former player Ray Daniel, who had recently done a Nasri to money bags of the time Sunderland, wore gloves – apparently not very usual then & not approved of. The middle-aged bloke next to us was forever encouraging the lads “com’n you Gunnneerrrs“, “great ball Jimmy”, “unlucky lad” but no swearing did I hear from anybody.
The hum & racket from the crowd continued, not many if any organised chants in those days but what a noise that reached a climax when David Herd hit a crisp shot past ‘keeper Willie Fraser for his 2nd goal in Arsenal colours. He added a similar goal later in the match, which together with a Jimmy Bloomfield strike, saw my 1st match end in a 3-1 victory.
Before the match Sunderland were 4th in the table, whilst we were a lowly 6th from bottom. This win was the 1st in a run of 10 in the last 15 matches to carry us up to a final place of 5th (yes above the Spuds!).
The game over back to the car, 6d for the boy “thanks Gov“, & off home exhausted, mesmerised & couldn’t wait for more.
Thank you, sir. ’til Tomorrow.